Years ago, when I was a young cub reporter at the Jerusalem Post, one of my esteemed veteran colleagues complained to the police about a motorcycle gang that used his apartment house parking lot for noisy nightly daredevil stunts.
The constabulary wasn’t much bothered but my colleague warned the teenage bikers that the cops know about their exploits. That put no damper on the hijinks. Quite the contrary, they increased in frequency, duration and decibels. When my colleague righteously admonished the loud louts, they threatened to kill him.
More indignant than ever, he again marched to the nearby police station and reported that the outrage has escalated and that his life is now in danger. The duty sergeant, who heard him out, asked matter-of-factly: “have they killed you yet?”
Since it was obvious that the plaintiff before him is alive and in a huff, the intrepid law-enforcer added condescendingly, by way of offering sage and soothing advice: “come back to us only after the boys actually kill you.”
That story stuck fast in my mind as a generic illustration for the attitude of the forces of law and order to the safety of assorted supplicants, not only on the local level. What was true in the Tel Aviv suburb back in the day, is just as true globally nowadays.
Anyone seeking action and justice is sure to be judged as a pesky irritant who disturbs the peace of the presumed guardians of fair-play. Anyone who squawks about any sort of aggression upsets stability. Nobody knows this better than Jews because, alas, the Jewish people have had so much cause to squawk.
Chaim Weizmann, who in time would become Israel’s first president, raised the alarm after the 1938 Nazi-perpetratedKristallnacht in Germany, a riotous outbreak of orchestrated pogroms that presaged the Holocaust. He would later recall international vexation with the Jews: “our protests were regarded as provocations. Our very refusal to subscribe to our own death sentence became a public nuisance.”
It therefore became the goal of policy-makers in the leading democracies to downplay German genocidal predations and adhere tenaciously to a strategy of noninterference in the “internal affairs” of the Third Reich.
Even when the Nazi death machine was already switched into its highest gear, and when WWII raged in its fullest fury, the Allied powers somehow refused to acknowledge the premeditated and methodical extermination of Europe’s Jews. No amount of proof sufficed – not until the postfactum silent evidence of the tortured remains could be viewed.
The Free World’s theme in our generation too is the same punctilious and pedantic insistence on unassailable proof. And somehow, no amount of proof ever constitutes sufficient corroboration.
Thus US President Barack Obama grudgingly mouthed something about the promise to regard any use of chemical weapons in Syria’s civil war as a “game-changer.” In the same breath, though, he cautioned that intelligence assessments about the deployment of such weapons were still preliminary. Artfully, Obama seemed to be talking tough while at the same time appealing for patience and fending off pressure for some tangible response.
It was an object lesson on how to speak a lot and say nothing. “Horrific as it is when mortars are being fired on civilians and people are being indiscriminately killed, to use potential weapons of mass destruction on civilian populations crosses another line with respect to international norms and international law,” Obama told White House reporters.
“That is going to be a game-changer, “he declared but instantly stipulated that “we have to act prudently.” Despite conceding that chemical weaponry had added “increased urgency” to the Syrian crisis, Obama took care to emphasize that more time is needed in order to provide conclusive proof. Significantly, Obama stopped short of declaring that Damascus despot Bashar Assad had already crossed the WMD “red line.”
The latest strikes attributed to Israel near Syria’s capital came in response to different red-lines in a different subplot. At this point we can only subjectively speculate on whether this action eases Obama’s discomfiture or intensifies it.
To be sure, Obama’s shilly-shallying in itself marks quite a shift from his previous official stance. Israel’s earlier disclosure that sarin gas was used in Syria, was a source of perceptible annoyance in Washington, where the distinct preference was to keep the inconvenient truth under wraps. Hence progress was discernible in the very admission that America’s intelligence community believed with “varying degrees of confidence” that the chemical nerve agent was used by Assad.
Of course Obama isn’t the only statesman who has perfected the art of spouting evasive verbiage even when seemingly putting an end to evasion.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is no less of a consummate master. Speaking recently on a BBC breakfast show, Cameron seemed to agree with Obama about the use of gas being a “red line” in Syria, but get a load at what he actually said. “It is very disturbing what we are seeing. It’s limited evidence but there’s growing evidence that we have seen the use of chemical weapons, probably by the regime,” he intoned. “It is extremely serious, this is a war-crime, and we should take it very seriously.”
And since “this is extremely serious, I think what President Obama said was absolutely right – that this should form for the international community a red line for us to do more.”
No worry. Cameron elucidated further: “”I have always been keen for us to do more. We are working with the opposition. We want our allies and partners to do more with us to shape that opposition to make sure we are supporting people with good motives who want a good outcome, to put pressure on that regime so we can bring it to an end.”
However, Cameron rules out armed intervention: “I don’t want to see that and I don’t think that is likely to happen, but I think we can step up the pressure on the regime, work with our partners, work with the opposition in order to bring about the right outcome… We need to go on gathering this evidence and also to send a very clear warning to the Syrian regime about these appalling actions.”
To cut the run-on rigmarole short, Assad may have a lot to lose sleep over but it’s not about intervention from Messrs. Obama, Cameron et al. They’ll continue talking the talk but they don’t really want to walk the walk.
Ostensibly it’s because of the Bush Administration’s alacrity to invade Iraq in 2003 on the pretext of WMD stockpiling by Saddam Hussein. Since no such arsenals were found, extra circumspection is now mandated to ascertain the use of forbidden chemicals by Assad.
But that’s disingenuous hokum.
A decade ago George Bush latched on to any excuse to remove Saddam even without conclusive substantiation. Today firm evidence exists against Assad but Obama will latch onto any excuse to avoid removing Assad.
That said, for once, Obama hasn’t got it all wrong.
Ruthless as Assad is, his downfall would turn Syria and adjacent lands into uncontrollable battlegrounds between his warring would-be successors – all of them the most nefarious of Islamic fanatics, be they Iranian proxies or al-Qaida surrogates. The lot of hapless noncombatants would hardly be improved. Politically incorrect as it is to say so, the mutual attrition now of pro- and anti-Assad combatants probably benefits America, Britain, Israel and the entire Free World. It’s the same as the mutual bloodletting between Iran and Iraq was in the 1980s.
Anything else is a choice between the devil we know and a whole host of even more dreadful demons who aspire to replace him. This is where the West’s hypocritical affectation gets in the way. The obsessive humanitarian posturing and fixated pretense of scrutinizing hypothetical red lines can in themselves bring on nothing less than colossal calamity.
Why? Because Assad isn’t the region’s lone villain. Other bad-guys are keeping close tabs on the international reaction to Assad’s excesses. The more sanctimonious the pronouncements from abroad, the greater the expectation that that they’d prompt punitive action. When nothing of the sort materializes, however, an unambiguous message is sent to Tehran’s ayatollahs. They can rest assured that no American military option exists against their nuke production.
In other words, talking the talk is downright dangerous. The greater the anti-Assad verbal offensive, the more it underscores the absence of a military offensive. Intently vigilant, the Iranians can doubtless be impressed with US inertia.
The only constructive course of action for Obama is to tone down his insincere anti-Assad rhetoric and to quit sounding the identical refrain for both Syria and Iran. The same goes for smug EU pontificators. The scarcity of even nominal semantic differentiation between the dissimilar Tehran and Damascus dangers should ring the loudest alarm bells for all Israelis.
The bleak signal to us is that the Iranian threat to “wipe the Zionist entity off the map” will be treated as indolently and as dishonestly as the internecine Syrian slaughter is. There will be the same pompous oratory accompanied by the same search for yet more irrefutable verification. The smoking gun for Iranian duplicity will never be found, unless – heaven forefend – in the fallout of an atomic mushroom.
In the immortal words of yesteryear’s conscientious sergeant: “come back to us only after the boys actually kill you.”
Indisputably, no national collective can afford the lackadaisical lunacy of waiting till after its own death. Definitive proof supplied by our demise would be of little use to us posthumously. The unavoidable bottom line for a sovereign state can only be self-reliance. No one else will come to our aid, not when it still matters.
Some things never change. It may be an inconvenient truth but what was, still is. We still upset the fine sensibilities of European and American self-styled adjudicators of international morality. To paraphrase Weizmann, the Jewish state’s squawks about Iranian nuclear designs “are regarded as provocation. Our very refusal to subscribe to our own death sentence becomes a public nuisance.”